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JACKY TSAI | NEW 'WAR SKULL' SPADES PLAYING CARD

September 19th 2014
War Skull is our most recent screenprint with Chinese artist Jacky Tsai, which we’ll be debuting at Affordable Art Fair in New York next week. Angie talks about the artist’s ideas behind the work below.

War Skull is our second playing card series with artist Jacky Tsai, and in my opinion his best yet. Like Gambling Skull released earlier this year (which sold within months of its release) and Poker Skull released in 2013, War Skull forms a series of 15 unique, double-sided screenprints to make up a suite of one suit of an oversized deck of cards.

Where ‘Gambling’ formed the suit of diamonds and ‘Poker’ the suit of hearts, War Skull is spades, and as its title suggests, this time Jacky presents his iconic skull motif as a collage of war associated imagery. Inspired by the centenary of the Great War, Tsai’s intension with this piece was that it represented all conflict; there is however a strong focus on the first and second world wars as tanks, guns, fighter planes and soldiers appear alongside poppies and 1940s pin-up girls. Speaking about the creation of the piece, Tsai said he wanted to “pay tribute to all those lost in war over the past 100 years”, not forgetting what they went through in order for us, their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, to live the lives we do today.

In terms of colour, compared to the previous two sets, War Skull is, in the artist’s words ‘less shimmery’ with more solid colour, and its palette has been carefully selected and used symbolically, with military greens placed alongside strong reds to represent Soviet and communist power; the addition of blue and white relating to the British and American national flags.

So why war imagery on a playing card? For Tsai, war is like gambling but on a much larger scale, with greed, power and money providing the main drive and motivation. In describing this comparison and ultimately the concept behind the piece, Tsai says “A human war is a much bigger scale of gambling; they are all after diamonds, money, oil and nature resources. In the end, the winner takes it all”.

The decision to choose the spade card for this particular series came from the association of the emblem - especially of the ace - with war and the army. In World War II, US soldiers of a particular parachute infantry regiment were marked with the spades symbol painted on the sides of their helmets for good luck due to its fortunate connotations in card playing. Traditionally seen as the highest and therefore most important card in the deck, the ace of spades is often singled out and referred to as the ‘death card’, which later lead to it being identified with death itself. During the Vietnam War, the card was used by American soldiers as a psychological weapon and they would often leave an ace of spades card on the bodies of Vietnamese victims, the idea of which could have come from a known gesture amongst gangsters in 1930s America, who were occasionally found holding the card after being assassinated.

All of this makes for an interesting story behind the work, but what initially strikes you about this piece when you see it in the flesh is its sheer impact in terms of size, execution (pardon the pun!) and composition. While at Jealous print studio, where the brilliant Jess worked her magic printing Tsai’s latest creation, I saw some preparatory material for Poker Skull, the first playing card edition produced last year, and the difference between that piece and this new work is interesting to consider. Where Poker Skull is very classic in its make-up, taking imagery of the Kings and Queens from traditional playing cards, in War Skull Tsai takes his idea to another level by building up an eye-catching collage of symbolic references to get his message across.

War Skull comprises of 15 works in total, each unique, ace through to king with one red joker and one black. They launch online today at £5,640 incl. VAT / US$7,965 each unframed. We will be showing the work at AAF New York 25th-29th September, at Multiplied in October and at AAF Singapore in November.

See all the works in the series and buy online here.
ANGIE DAVEY
Creative Director
JACKY TSAI
War Skull (Ten of Spades)
 
 
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